Trials & Litigation

Lawyers say 'woefully inadequate' courthouse meals threaten clients' defense

Skimpy meals served to jail inmates appearing in court in at least one Canadian province leaves them too hungry to defend themselves properly, some lawyers say. So they have been filing motions to get more food for their clients.

It is undisputed that lunch for inmates at Ontario courthouses commonly consists of a single sandwich and a drink, the Canadian Press reports. And, due to the early breakfast and late dinner that also result from appearing in court, that just isn’t enough to meeting inmate nutritional needs for what can easily be a 12-hour period, defense lawyers say.

“In my experience the food they receive when they’re at court is woefully inadequate,” says attorney Scott Reid.

A Toronto police spokesman says inmates’ lunch “is by no means their primary meal of the day” and attorney Dirk Derstine says minimal courthouse meals might be OK for those who are attending brief hearings, rather than ongoing trials.

“A bagel with a processed cheese slice might be something that any one of us might eat on a given day,” he stated. “If you gave it to us for 80 days straight we might start thinking it’s pretty unreasonable.”

Supported by a statement from a dietitian, Reid recently filed a motion asking a judge to order officials to provide more food for a client scheduled for trial earlier this month. However, before it was argued, a holding cell supervisor agreed to provide snacks and vegetables that more than tripled the usual provisions for inmates appearing in court, the article says.

Reid and other lawyers say it’s easy to prevail on such motions because those in charge are wary of litigation that could possibly result in bigger meals for inmates as a group.

In 2008, attorney Daniel Brown filed a motion on behalf of a client who had been given only a granola bar and a juice box for lunch while attending a preliminary hearing. As in Reid’s case, authorities agreed to provide more food before the judge ruled.

“They give you everything you want,” he said, because “they don’t want any type of sweeping judicial pronouncements requiring them to give more.”

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